As we move through the holidays during this off season, the Fire's roster is taking some kind of shape. Let's take a look at the depth chart that Yallop and Bliss have created so far. This depth chart includes all signings and departures up to today. For this purpose, I will use a standard 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in the middle of the formation. The projected starter(s) will be listed in bold followed by the backups.
Goalkeepers: Sean Johnson, Kyle Reynish, Alec Kann
Left Back: Joevin Jones, Greg Cochrane, Patrick Doody
Right Back: Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig
Center Back: Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Gehrig, Patrick Doody
Left Mid: Harry Shipp, Alex, Patrick Nyarko(IR)
Center Mid: Razvan Cocis, Matt Watson, Alex, Chris Ritter, Collin Fernandez
Right Mid: Michael Stephens, Collin Fernandez, Patrick Nyarko(IR)
Forward: Kennedy Igboananike, David Accam, Quincy Amarikwa, Mike Magee(IR)
These are my logical guesses at the depth chart heading into the 2015 so far.
The Chicago Fire roster stands at 21 players with a few holes remaining to be filled. First and most importantly, Yallop needs to add to the defense. With only six defenders on the roster - and only one capable starting center back - this is one area that needs vast improvement if the Fire are going to improve in 2015. The number one priority for Yallop is to bring in a top quality center back to pair with Jeff Larentowicz. Ironically, Yallop's big move last year was an attempt to fix the centerback problem on the roster, bringing in Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni to pair with Soumare; it did not work, and now all three of them are gone, leaving a larger hole at center back.
The next most glaring need is the outside mid positions. I put Shipp on the left based on how much Yallop used him there during 2014 but I think his best position is in the center as a playmaking No. 10. Nyarko is out for the most of the first half of the season, and is the only player on the roster that is a true outside mid. Michael Stephens did play on the outside with Stabaek but do we really want him starting? Yallop could also use KI or Accam on the outside but that would be hypocritical when he stated that both players are going to be up top. Even if he does put one of the new DPs on the wing that will leave options at forward very thin considering that Magee, like Nyarko, is out for much of the first half of the season.
It's possible the roster is nearly built - rumors about the new CBA have roster sizes falling from the current 30 to something like 24. Filling these two needs are crucial before the 2015 season starts, and Yallop and Bliss definitely have their hands full.
My Christmas wish is that the brain trust at the Fire can bring in two quality center backs to pair with Larentowicz and a few outside wingers that can fill the void on the outside. Maybe rounding out the roster with 6 more players heading into training camp would give me more of a warm and fuzzy feeling heading into the 2015 preseason without having to drink Malort.
Speaking of preseason, the Chicago Fire announced their preseason training plans on December 17th. They start off in Chicago on January 25 until February 1, when they depart for a 2-week trip to England with stops at Norwich City FC and Queens Park Rangers. They then return to Chicago on February 13 and depart for the 2015 Simple Invitational that is hosted by the Portland Timbers from February 19 to March 1. This is a departure from years past as the Fire pass up on the warm weather of places like Florida, California, and Arizona with the cold wet weather of England and Portland. Hopefully this change will help the Fire get off to a flying start when the 2015 season starts early in March.
Regular season openers
On December 19th the MLS announced all home openers for the 2015 season. What does this mean for the Fire?
For the third year in a row, the Fire open up the season in southern California, as they take on the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy. This is the perfect start for the Fire, in my opinion, as it will give us a chance to see if the changes made in the off season will actually have an improvement from the previous year. This game takes place on Friday, March 6 at 9PM CST, and is the first MLS game of the season.
That is followed up by the first game at Toyota Park when the Fire host another Western Conference opponent in the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, March 14. It will more than likely be cold for this one but I'm sure the Fire faithful will be psyched for the home opener. Then the Men in Red fly back out to California to help the San Jose Earthquakes open their new Avaya Stadium on Sunday, March 22. Yet again the Fire get to open yet another new stadium but at least they will have only one more west coast trip after they visit San Jose.
Last but not least, we here at Hot Time in Old Town would like to wish all of our readers and their families a wonderful holidays.